PETALING JAYA: Malaysia should consider capping the number of tourists at its islands to reduce stress on coral reefs threatened by climate change and the El Nino phenomenon.
Reef Watch Malaysia general manager Julian Hyde (pic) said most of the stress on coral reefs stemmed from tourism and that limiting the number of tourists there was an option.
The large number of divers and snorkellers, and the incidents of touching and hitting the coral, were a major stress factor for the reefs, he said.
"Every morning there are hundreds of people snorkelling at the marine parks near Redang Island. Who is managing them?
"More education is needed to change the habits of divers and snorkellers," he said.
Hyde said capping the number of tourists was practised at only a few places now.
"There is a logistical number beyond which you simply cannot cope and there are only so many people that can fit on an island, but deciding what that number is will be difficult," he said.
He was responding to a statement by Universiti Malaya coral reef ecologist Affendi Yang Amri that climate change, coupled with a strong El Nino effect, could threaten up to 90 per cent of the country's coral reefs.
Affendi had said that while very little could be done to reduce nature's effects on the reefs, steps could be taken to minimise water pollution, litter, coastal development and damage by divers and snorkellers.
According to Hyde, holiday resorts with inadequate sewage treatment systems were also a problem.
He said that while there were plans to better maintain septic tanks and improve the systems in places like Pulau Redang and Pulau Perhentian, along with a trial programme to desludge the tanks on Pulau Tioman, these needed to be carried out at all resorts and islands.